You betcha, because the subject I drew for today's post, Bitubulites irregularis, never even got a sketchy diagram to illustrate it. And once again, we have an early German palaeontologist to thank. In 1820, Ernst Friedrich, Freiherr von Schlotheim, published a book called Die Petrefactenkunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkte durch die Beschreibung seiner Sammlung versteinerter und fossiler Überreste des Thier- und Pflanzenreichs der Vorwelt erläutert, because they don't write book titles like they used to. As far as I can tell, the title basically translates as Got Some Great Fossils Here, Wanna See? As with Münster's Beiträge zur Petrefakten-Kunde that provided the source for the Serpularia post, Schlotheim's publication was basically a description of some of the fossils held in his own collection. His comments on B. irregularis appeared on p. 376, and were as follows:
And I'll be honest, I have very little idea what any of that means, because I don't read German beyond chucking stuff into Google Translate. The genus Bitubulites had established in 1803 by another German scientist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, for a different fossil, B. problematicus. Bitubulites problematicus was composed of two small conjoined tubes that Blumenbach illustrated thus:
Aus dem Muschelflötzkalk der Gegend von Weimar.
Einzelne cylinderförmige Stücke, von der Dicke eines mäſsigen Fingers, mit gröſstentheils concaven Durchschnittsflächen, auf welchen sich gewöhnlich ins Dreyeck gestellte kleine Öffnungen zeigen, welche mit durchgehenden Nervenröhren in Verbindung zu stehen scheinen. Äuſserlich ist die Oberfläche fein puncktirt.
Da sich mehrere übereinstimmende Stücke finden, so läſst sich nicht erwarten, daſs wir ein bloſses Naturspiel vor uns hätten. Zuweilen sind auch vier, aber alsdenn noch unregelmäſsiger gestellte Öffnungen, vorhanden. Bis jetzt haben sich, meines Wissens, noch keine ganz vollständigen und recht gut erhaltenen Exemplare aufgefunden.
Blumenbach had called his original fossil 'problematicus' because he had little idea what type of animal it represented. Schlotheim was none the wiser, listing Bitubulites among unclassifiable forms with no close analogues in the modern fauna. He did tentatively compare it to a couple of fossil mollusks, such as the straight-shelled cephalopods or the reef-forming hippuritid bivalves. And there Bitubulites lay for over a century, more or less forgotten by all except the most pedantic of cataloguers (ahem...)
In 1962, Walter Häntzschel included Bitubulites in his chapter on problematica for the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. It was tucked away in the end, in a list of "Unrecognized and Unrecognizable "Genera"" that Häntzschel felt largely deserved nothing more than to be cast forever into the outer darkness. Nevertheless, he did suggest a possible identity for Bitubulites: Rhizocorallium, a fossil that can be found in deposits dating from the Cambrian all the way to the present, commonly looking like this (copyright Manuel Flöther):
At the time that Blumenbach and Schlotheim were writing their books, no-one had yet twigged what these kind of trace fossils were; neither author would have been alone in mistaking a burrow for a body fossil. Many structures that are now recognised as traces were described as fossil algae. It was not until the late 1800s that a Swedish and an American palaeontologist independently noted the similar between a number of these 'algae' and the structures left by marine organisms as they went about their daily life. Even today, this earlier misunderstanding has left its mark in the tradition of referring to particular trace fossils by binomial names, as trace 'genera' and 'species'. Nevertheless, trace fossils often provide us with a window into the past over and above what we can learn from body fossils alone, and they are an invaluable tool in developing a truly rounded understanding of life in ages past.
Blumenbach, J. F. 1803. Specimen Archaeologicae Telluris terrarumque inprimis Hannoverarum. Henricum Dieterich: Göttingen.
Häntzschel, W. 1962. Trace fossils and problematica. In: Moore, R. C. (ed.) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt W. Miscellanea: Conodonts, Conoidal Shells of Uncertain Affinities, Worms, Trace Fossils and Problematica pp. W177-W245. Geological Society of America, and University of Kansas Press.
Schlotheim, E. F. von. 1820. Die Petrefactenkunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkte durch die Beschreibung seiner Sammlung versteinerter und fossiler Überreste des Thier- und Pflanzenreichs der Vorwelt erläutert. Becker'schen Buchhandlung: Gotha.